Preview by Karthik Lakshmanan - Cricbuzz
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Colombo, Sep 16: Not many people gave Australia much of a chance to do well when they arrived in Sri Lanka with a squad consisting of quite a few newcomers. Also, their batsmen were supposed to fail against the spin dominated Sri Lankan bowling attack, and their bowlers, which included two debutants, were not expected to be much of a threat on flat tracks. But two Tests later, it is Sri Lanka who are fighting to square the series. The visitors, under the leadership of Michael Clarke, have outplayed the hosts in all departments, even in conditions suited to the home side.
Australia: After overpowering the hosts on a dust bowl at Galle, the Australians followed it up with another dominating performance at Pallekele where rain ruined their chance of sealing the series. Though not as ruthless as they once were, the visitors have been playing consistently with bat and ball. The batsmen have done fairly well and have looked at ease against the spinners. Australia would particularly be happy with the performances of Michael Hussey - the left handed rock of the middle order rescued them from a tricky position in the opening Test and followed it up with a sublime century in the next to bag consecutive Man of the Match awards. He found great support in Shaun Marsh, who began his Test journey with a century. His performance has forced the team management to drop Usman Khawaja to accomodate former skipper Ricky Ponting, who will return to the number 3 spot after missing the Pallekele Test for the birth of his child. If there is any area of concern in the batting, it is the opening pair. Shane Watson, after having an excellent season last year, has gone 5 innings without a half century, while his partner Phillip Hughes has got starts but has not made them big. The duo will not get a better wicket than the one at SSC to return to form, for it is known to be one of the flattest pitches in the world.
Australia's bowling has been a pleasant surprise in the series. They started the tour with 2 bowlers making their debuts and skittled out the Lankans for a paltry 105 runs. The intensity has been maintained throughout the series, and have managed to keep the Sri Lankan batsmen under check in their own conditions. But the real test for the bowling department will come at SSC, where they will have to face the strong Sri Lankan batting line up without their premier fast bowler Ryan Harris. Harris, who has been ruled out due to a hamstring injury, has been the go-to man for Clarke. With his hit-the-deck hard bowling, the left-handed pacer has asked questions of the batsmen's techniques, picking up 11 wickets in the process. His absence now will give Peter Siddle a chance to prove his worth once again.
Sri Lanka: Their skipper Dilshan has been calling out to the batsmen (which includes himself) to rise up to the occassion for quite a while and they finally did that in the 2nd innings at Pallekele, with a steady show to save the match with the help of some rain. Apart from that, their batting has been a major let down and the sole reason for the position they find thesmselves in. They have struggled to get starts and have often collapsed at the top, leaving it to the lower middle order to do the rescue act. Only Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews offered resistance to the disciplined Australian attack, but the hosts will know that the others need to chip in if Sri lanka are to save the series. The calls for Mathews to bat higher up in the order are getting louder by the day and Sri Lanka may be forced to push wicket-keeper batsman Prasanna Jayawardene to number 7.
Sri Lanka's bowling attack will get a major boost with the return of premier spinner Herath, who was forced out of the Pallekele Test due to an injury. He will replace leg spinner Seekkuge Prasanna.
I'm hitting the ball alright. Hopefully I can turn that into a big score: Shane Watson
It's a great honour to have represented my country for a period of time, and also a great honour to play 100 Test matches: Kumar Sangakkara
Final word: Despite their recent form, Sri Lanka would be a fairly confident side going into the final Test. Their confidence will not only come from their second innings batting in Pallekele, but also from their past performances at the venue, where they have won 12 out of 17 Tests. A Ryan-Harris less Australia will have to do really well to win the series. If they do win it, it will be a well deserved one for the young side, led by a dynamic skipper. An intriguing battle awaits us.
Australia (From): Brad Haddin(w), Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, James Pattinson, David Warner, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke(c), Michael Beer, Trent Copeland, Ryan Harris, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle
Sri Lanka (From): Tillakaratne Dilshan(c), Angelo Mathews, Shaminda Eranga, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Suraj Randiv, Suranga Lakmal, Ajantha Mendis, Dhammika Prasad, Kumar Sangakkara, Seekkuge Prasanna, Prasanna Jayawardene(w), Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Chanaka Welegedara
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